Rosa Parks' Detroit house finds a home in Berlin
After Rosa Parks made her iconic act of protest on an Alabama bus, her life in the Southern state became unbearable. She faced a stream of death threats. She lost her job in a department store. Her husband was also fired. So Parks' family packed up. They moved into her brother's Detroit home.
In the years after Parks' death, that house was largely forgotten, as Sally McGrane reports for The New York Times. The house fell into disrepair. It was slated for demolition. But thanks to an unlikely collaboration between Parks' niece and an American artist, Parks' Detroit abode has found a new home. It's in Berlin in Germany.
The house now sits in one of the city's working class neighborhoods. It is behind an apartment building. It's not the most visible location. But the home has attracted a lot of attention. Its arrival in the country made front-page news. A steady steam of visitors has been stopping by the house since it opened to the public. That was in April.
Transporting the historic home overseas was a last resort for Rhea McCauley. She is Parks' niece. For years, she had tried - and failed - to raise the funds needed for fixing her aunt's former residence.
"I talked to neighbors," McCauley said during an interview with Atika Shubert of CNN. "I asked for help. I begged several organizations that Auntie Rosa worked with because I thought they loved her. But no, they didn't want to help me restore the property."
Then McCauley was introduced to Ryan Mendoza. He is a Berlin-based artist from New York. For one of his previous projects, Mendoza had purchased a run-down Detroit home. He took it apart. He rebuilt it at the Verbeke Foundation. That is in Belgium. The installation explored the American subprime mortgage crisis. That had led to thousands of foreclosures in Detroit. That is according to The Detroit News.
When he spoke to McCauley, Mendoza saw a chance to save another of the city's abandoned homes. Only this one was once home to a hero of the civil rights movement.
In August of last year, Mendoza and a local team began taking apart the house, reports Stephanie Kirchner of The Washington Post. The parts were packed into shipping crates. Then they were sent off to Europe. By October, Mendoza had started piecing the home back together. It was in the courtyard next to his Berlin home. He fixed the house's crumbling roof and collapsing walls. But he left its exterior unpolished.
"I'm glad it's not painted nicely, with flowers and a picket fence," McCauley told McGrane of the Times. "We're not talking about a fairy tale. There's no Hansel and Gretel here. We're talking about a lady who sacrificed so much, who suffered."
Visitors are not allowed inside the house for insurance reasons. But also because Mendoza wanted it "to have its dignity," McGrane reports. The artist, however, has been letting himself in the house. There, he plays recordings of Parks' radio interviews. The recordings fill the structure with her voice.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was it important for the exterior of the house to remain unpolished?
Write your answers in the comments section below